Tag Archives: parts of a sentence

Don’t let spell-check make you look dumb

Spell-check is like a friend who wrecks your car and then repairs the damage to disguise the accident: It seems like she has your back, but she ultimately lets you down.

A writer sent me a draft of a magazine article he wrote recently so that he could get my feedback about the content. It was well-written and engaging, but it’s a good thing he sent it to me. He overlooked the punctuation and grammatical errors.

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5 must-read grammar tips

In homage to The Oatmeal’s charming illustration of the perils of 10 commonly misspelled and misused words, I present five of my very (least) favorite grammar missteps.

Enjoy some more words and phrases you or someone you know is using incorrectly, whether it’s in everyday conversation or in marketing materials and other business communications.

Let’s dive right in.

1. Champing at the bit.

While the phrase itself isn’t that sophisticated, knowing the right way to say it can elevate your grammatical street cred.

Margo: Theodore! They finally started stocking Beaujolais Nouveau at that lovely little bistro down the way!

Theodore: Thank heavens, Margo, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get another taste of that delicious wine!

Theodore’s heart was in the right place, but his words weren’t.

A truly fancy tongue turner would have said “champing at the bit.” Champing implies impatience, which is at the heart of the sentiment behind this phrase.

2. Comprise versus compose

Here’s another example of striking out on a home-run pitch. Comprise is one of those elusive words that rarely finds the right moment to pop out from underground.

How many times have you seen or heard “comprise” used this way?

The guest list is comprised of dignitaries and noblemen.

The AP Stylebook says that comprise means, “To contain, to include all or embrace.” It also notes that “comprise” is best used in the active voice, followed by a direct object. If you want to use “comprise” in this situation, say:

The guest list comprises dignitaries and noblemen.

3. For all intents and purposes

This phrase has been misused orally for so long that society has just decided to accept its mutation. Resist.

Wrong: For all intensive purposes, that cat has replaced Kathy’s oldest daughter.

Right: For all intents and purposes, that cat is spoiled rotten.

4.  Allusion and illusion

Although both words carry with them an air of the mysterious, they aren’t interchangeable.

An allusion is a reference, when something is mentioned. An illusion is deceitful – it tricks the senses by producing a false impression.

The 5-inch heels gave the illusion that Gwen was as tall as Jim.

Dave alluded to the fact that he was out of money.

5. Espresso

Just because it makes your mind race doesn’t mean you can mispronounce its name. There’s no “x” in there, people.

If you didn’t know these already, don’t sweat it – you’re not alone. That’s why we’re here.

Diagramming sentences: What’s that?

Trying to ease back into Style Guru mode on the heels of vacation is a fruitless endeavor. My mind is focused on mountains, vineyards and sunsets – not dangling modifiers, misplaced clauses and subject-verb agreement.

Between winery tours in Virginia, one of my friends, who teaches reading in elementary school, told me that schools no longer teach kids how to diagram sentences. What? Are you kidding me? We’re both 40-something and this skill was ingrained in us. The Schoolhouse Rock series reinforced what we’d learned (“Conjunction Junction” was always one of my favorites) in a way that just about all of my classmates could absorb.

The kids at my friend’s school learn about articles, prepositions, conjunctions and such, but they don’t have to identify the subject, noun, verb, adjective and other basic parts of a sentence. That’s what diagramming is all about, and it’s not rocket science. Did someone decide it’s too difficult?

Occasionally, I run across tests that children in the 1800s had to pass to move on to the next grade and they’re exceptionally more difficult than anything I had to take. Maybe not teaching how to diagram a sentence goes along with the general dumbing down of America.